Drivers Are Running the Red Light at Fell/Masonic, Imperiling Cyclists

Fell_Masonic_crash.jpgBicycle hit by a car at Fell and Masonic on December 13th, 2008

Last September, San Francisco’s city attorney asked Judge Peter Busch to allow an exemption to the long-standing bicycle injunction so the MTA could improve the city’s second most dangerous intersection for cyclists, where Fell Street meets Masonic Street.  Even after the MTA adjusted signalization and gave cyclists a separate green light, cars are running the red light and hitting cyclists.

The latest collision happened Saturday, around 4pm, to Cindy Asrir, as she was riding bicycles with her 10-year-old daughter on the Panhandle Greenway after spending the afternoon in Golden Gate Park.  At Fell and Masonic, they waited for the bicycle light to turn green and then started across the street.  

In an interview, Asrir described what happened as she and her daughter entered the crosswalk. She said there were also several pedestrians crossing when a white SUV pulled through the red light, but stopped short of them.  A second car ignored the red signal and darted around the SUV, slamming into Asrir, knocking her up on the hood of the vehicle, and launching her to the pavement.  Asrir hit her head hard, though she credits her helmet with preventing further injury.  

According to witnesses, the driver had been talking on her cell phone. Later, she was not allowed to leave in her car.

A police report has yet to be filed in the case and Park Station police would not release any details about the crash, including possible citations and charges.

Though obviously shaken from the event and upset that the new light hasn’t improved things, Asrir was grateful that her daughter, who trailed behind her by a foot, had not been the one struck, nor a mother with a child in a stroller who was just behind them.

“I used to always be scared of that intersection,” said Asrir. “But I was so happy when they put in the light.  Now I’m scared of the intersection again.”

Fell_Masonic_good.jpg

The Fix Masonic neighborhood coalition has long sought improvements to the intersection and better enforcement of traffic laws to change driver behavior.  According to members of the coalition, at their last meeting, a representative of the MTA who has been observing Fell and Masonic since the bike light went in reported seeing numerous instances of cars deliberately ignoring their red left-turn arrow and turning against the cyclists’ green.   

“You don’t need to spend more than twenty minutes standing at the intersection to see the violations, especially at 5 pm on a weekday,” said Fix Masonic Founder Mark Christiansen

MTA spokesman Judson True assented that the intersection needs more enforcement and added, “It’s important for all users to obey traffic signals.  The whole point of the new signal is to separate vehicle movements from bicycles and pedestrians.”

True said there had been one previous crash between a cyclist and vehicle since the light was added.  In an interview a couple weeks ago, senior MTA traffic engineer Jack Fleck told Streetsblog that one or two crashes a year at an intersection could be coincidence, but that three or more was unacceptable and that the MTA would try to change such an intersection (as they have proposed doing with the eastbound bicycle lane at Market St. and Octavia Blvd.)

The SFBC has made numerous requests to the SFPD to increase enforcement at Fell and Masonic, as well as other dangerous intersections.  In a letter sent to Chief Heather Fong last June (PDF) they demanded a “well-publicized campaign focusing on motorists’ violations of vulnerable users’ right-of-way” similar to a recent initiative in Chicago.

“This intersection needs focused enforcement attention, right now and until motorists understand that the red signal arrow means STOP,” said SFBC Program Director Andy Thornley.  “Citywide, we need a renewed commitment to enforcement of basic traffic violations to address those behaviors that most often result in injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Cindy Asrir, meantime, is vowing to become active in the Fix Masonic coalition once her wounds heal. She also plans to lobby the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor to remedy the problem at Fell and Masonic.  

“That should be a safe zone; that’s how people get to the park,” said Asrir.  “If you can’t bike to the park safely, we have a big problem.”

Flickr photos: Alex Choi and Shmooth

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